House Votes for 698 Miles of Fences on Mexico Border

views updated

House Votes for 698 Miles of Fences on Mexico Border

Newspaper article

By: Rachel B. Swarns

Date: December 16, 2005

Source: Swarns, Rachel B. "House Votes for 698 Miles of Fences on Mexico Border." New York Times. December 16, 2005.

About the Author: Rachel B. Swarns is a reporter for the New York Times, a New York newspaper with a daily circulation of over one million copies.


Since the early 1990s, a major focus in United States immigration policy has been on securing the land border with Mexico and reducing levels of undocumented migration to the United States, as well as tackling other cross-border crimes such as drug smuggling. In December 2005, the House of Representatives passed a bill intended to further strengthen the border with measures including the construction of high security fences for some 700 miles along the United States border with Mexico.

Mexicans account for a high percentage of all undocumented immigrants to the United States. Of the estimated 10.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2004, fifty-seven percent were from Mexico. Up to eighty-five percent of recent Mexican immigrants to the United States have entered as undocumented migrants, many using the services of people traffickers (coyotes) to facilitate their entry.

Drug smuggling from Mexico is also an increasing problem. The U.S. State Department estimates that by the mid-1990s, around ten percent of the cocaine, twenty to thirty percent of the heroin, and up to eighty percent of the marijuana being brought into the United States arrives via Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Administration has also calculated that Mexico earns more than $7 billion annually from illegal drug trading.

Although a security fence already exists along some sections of the border known to be used by undocumented migrants, it is easily penetrable and has been ineffective in deterring migrants. Long stretches of the border have no fence and are unmarked. However, there has been a significant strengthening of border control since the early 1990s, with a major increase in border control agents and the use of advanced technology to detect unauthorized migrants. These have often been introduced under specific initiatives such as Operation Gatekeeper, launched in the San Diego border region in 1994.

The proposal to construct a high security fence along a lengthy stretch of the 1,951-mile U.S. border with Mexico is controversial, especially in Mexico. It is seen as being in conflict with the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), intended to facilitate free trade and the legal movement of goods between the United States and Mexico. There is already a high degree of integration between the Mexican and U.S. economies. With an estimated 230 million people and 82 million vehicles entering the United States from Mexico every year, it remains difficult to secure the border against illegal activity, while leaving it open to legitimate crossings and trade.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


The House of Representatives passed the border security bill in December 2005, with strong Republican support. However, the issue of immigration reform opened up major rifts within the party and between the Republicans and their traditional allies in the business community, who were opposed to the strong emphasis on enforcement of the immigration rules without any provision for a guest worker program to meet the needs of U.S. employers for migrant workers.

In May 2005, the Senate passed an alternative bill with cross-party support that did include a proposal for a temporary worker program. The Senate bill also supported the building of a high security fence along the border. By mid-2006 neither bill had been passed by both houses, a necessary prerequisite for becoming law, but since both proposed the building of a border fence, it is likely that this will be included in the agreed package of immigration reform.

Such a policy may have an adverse impact on diplomatic relations with Mexico, which has generally cooperated with the United States in recent years on tackling undocumented migration and cross-border crime, but is likely to be opposed to the construction of a border fence. Within the United States, supporters of a border fence see it as a powerful, visible symbol of its efforts to prevent unauthorized migration, as well as a weapon in the fight against international terrorism.



Delaet, Debra L. U.S. Immigration Policy in an Age of Rights. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2000.

Monto, Alexander. The Roots of Mexican Labor Migration. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1994.


Andreas, Peter. "The Making of Amerexico: (Mis)handling Illegal Immigration." World Policy Journal (June 22, 1994).

Andreas, Peter. "U.S.-Mexico: Open Markets, Closed Border." Foreign Policy (June 22, 1996).

Burnor, Emily. "Under the Fence: US-Mexican Immigration Issues.(AMERICAS)." Harvard International Review (June 22, 2005).

Cornelius, Wayne A. "Controlling 'Unwanted' Immigration: Lessons from the United States, 1993–2004." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (July 7, 2005).

Griswold, Daniel T. "Confronting the Problem of Illegal Mexican Migration to the U.S." USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education) 131 (March 2003).

Kruys, Brig Gen George. "Controlling Land Borders: a Comparison of the United States of America, Germany and South Africa." Strategic Review for Southern Africa (November 1, 2002).